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Mill soon set to run tests on biomass boiler

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To be fully operational in January

Expected to help reduce power costs for the local pulp and paper mill, and help with long-term sustainability, the AbitibiBowater biomass boiler project is nearing completion, with the aim to be fully operational in January.

“We’re a little over a week away from the first pressure test on the boiler,” mill manager John Harrison said Monday. “Once you get all the pressure parts of the boiler hooked up, you pressurize them to make sure they’re good and it’s going to meet code.

“Our date for ‘first fire’ [of the boiler] is Nov. 26,” Harrison added. “First fire means putting the boiler on gas to make sure everything functions in the boiler itself.

“After that, there’s about three weeks [until] the end [of] mechanical completion.

“There’s some things you can do, such as first fire in the boiler, before you’re completely done,” he explained. “It allows you to check out the next step and make sure that it works before you do the finishing touches. So there’s about three weeks of finishing up all the electrical and mechanical components.

“We expect to be starting the boiler up for operation in mid-December. That last couple weeks of December will be initial trials and start-up, and tuning and commissioning and working our way through all the issues that arise,” continued Harrison.

“Then we expect the thing to be in full-blown production the start of next year.”

Construction of the biomass boiler began last summer, and it previously was expected to be operational this fall.

“We’re about a month behind [schedule],” admitted Harrison, noting there’s been “all kinds of reasons” for the delay but choosing not to elaborate further.

Abitibi-Consolidated (now AbitibiBowater) officially announced its approval of the $84.3-million biomass boiler for the local pulp and paper mill back in March, 2007. The project also got a boost from the provincial government in the form of a $22.5-million grant under the Forest Sector Prosperity Fund.

The biomass boiler project has had the support of IAM 771, IBEW 1744, and CEP 92 and 306, which struck an agreement with the company in January, 2007 for labour stability to help make the project happen.

Once it’s up and running in January, the new boiler will reduce the amount of the electricity the mill takes from the grid, generating about 45.5 megawatts. “It will have a significant impact on the operating costs of the mill,” said Harrison.

The biomass boiler will use renewable, cost-effective fuel from wood waste to generate 470,000 pounds of steam an hour.

It will burn mill-generated wood waste and primary sludge, as well as harvest slash from woodlands operations and wood waste from area sawmills. It will require 350,000 “oven dry” tonnes of biomass fuel (or just over 700,000 “green” tonnes) each year.

“We’re in good shape for biomass fuel supply,” said Harrison. “We’ve been storing biomass that’s been generated this year [at the mill] off-site on our property north of the lagoon.

“And we have arrangements with saw millers in the area, and we’ve being making arrangements with people to do grinding of slash that’s out in the bush, so we’re pretty comfortable with the

biomass situation that we have right now,” he added.

The company also said previously that the boiler will help secure employment for more than 600 mill employees and create about 50 new jobs in biomass harvesting and transportation, as well as other economic spin-offs.

“There’s still going to be work created out in the bush to take the slash that used to be burned in the bush,” said Harrison. “It will now have to be ground and then hauled in, so there’s going to be jobs trucking and grinding slash in the bush.

“There isn’t a lot going on at sawmills these days, so there isn’t as much of a demand for hauling biomass from sawmills, but that will come back.”

Harrison said there will be grand opening of the new biomass boiler sometime in January.

“It will be great to show it off to everyone in town who supported us, and let people kind of see what’s going on behind the big blue building there,” he remarked.

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